College Community Makes Merry from All Corners of the Globe
December 17, 2013   //   By:   //   Campus and Community

father-frost-ded-moroz-saint-nicholasAs the fall semester ticks to a close at Elizabethtown College, and winter—arriving just after lunchtime on Dec. 21—gives us an intimation of its plans for the next three months, campus community members are partaking in or preparing for winter holiday celebrations.

With E-town students and faculty and staff members connected to Chile, China, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Germany, Haiti, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Myanmar, Poland, Russia, Spain and Vietnam—just to name a few—these holidays are likely to range from Diwali to Hanukkah and from Christmas to Las Posadas. Each, depending on its origin and purpose, brings with it its own meaning and its own set of traditions and festivities.

A few members of the campus community recently shared some of these holiday traditions—and recipes—from their home countries. Many of the customs are ancient; all are unique.


Wendy Gibble, whose family ancestry is German, incorporates the Pickle Prize into her holiday traditions. “We hide a pickle ornament on the tree on Christmas Eve and the first child (of our two children) to find the pickle wins a prize,” said Gibble, merchandise manager, in the College Store. “My children love this game!”

In addition to the Pickle, Gibble said, her family also enjoys corn. More specifically her grandmother’s baked corn, which was made only at Christmas. “When she passed away, I found the recipe in her recipe box.” Gibble said. “I know it by heart!!”

In addition to “Grammie’s Baked Corn” a new food has become a holiday tradition, as well, Gibble said. Elegant toffee. See recipes for both, below.


Though she has been living in the United States for about four years and celebrates Christmas similar those in the U.S., Reka Berenyi, area coordinator in Residence Life, said the concept behind many of her traditions, however, is different.

“In Hungary, we celebrate St. Nick’s Day on Dec. 6, and that is the day Santa Claus brings presents to good children,” she said of holiday festivities in her home country. “On Christmas, Baby Jesus brings presents as a way to celebrate his birthday.” She said the gifts are usually opened on Christmas Eve after a family dinner, then in the days leading up to New Year’s Eve, the time is spent visiting family members.

Berenyi said she has not had the opportunity to return to Hungary for Christmas the past few years, so she Skypes her family on Christmas Eve and, through the magic of technology, talks with them and watches them open their gifts. Then, on Christmas morning, she celebrates with her loved ones in the United States “according to American traditions.”

A favorite Hungarian Christmas food tradition, Berenyi said, is “nut rolls.” See recipe, below.

Italian (with a bit of Polish and Czech mixed in)

Melissa Nanna’s favorite meal of the year is the Christmas Eve seafood dinner at her aunt’s house. “I guess this could be considered the Feast of the Seven Fishes, but we don’t usually have seven dishes,” said Nanna a junior communications major. “The meal usually consists of fried shrimp, scallops, shrimp scampi, mussels marinara and chicken for my aunt who doesn’t like seafood,” she said. “We then open presents and eat dessert.”

The dessert, of course, tends to be the favorite part of this favorite holiday meal. Nanna, shared a cookie recipe that she and her mother make every year. “They are kind of like Russian Tea Cakes,” she said.

See recipe for Butter Balls, below.


As a secular humanist, Kristi Syrdahl, director of International Student Services, does not actively practice a religion, but she was raised Lutheran and, therefore, celebrates Christmas. Her festivities, however, have a decidedly Scandinavian leaning.

Syrdahl’s paternal grandparents lived in Trondheim and Grimstad in Norway. Her maternal great-grandparents hail from Helsinki, Finland. And, though they “immigrated to Brooklyn, New York, via Ellis Island for the American Dream,” Syrdahl said, she still has family members in the old country.

There, the holiday is celebrated on the 24th rather than 25th. St. Lucia Day, which, she said, typically is the first Saturday in December, actually originated in Italy, where St. Lucia was a martyr for her Christian faith. “Scandinavian people thought it was lovely and adopted a tradition called ‘St. Lucia Day’,” Syrdahl said.

With this tradition in mind, Syrdahl became a member of a Scandinavian folk dancing and singing group and, as a teen, she wore seven lit candles on her head for the celebration. “It was a great right-of-passage.”

Traditional Scandinavian decorations, Syrdahl noted, are made of straw from the recent harvest, “weird-looking” trolls and Jule Nissa or Christmas elves. Her family’s holiday decorations were either purchased in Norway or were made by her mother over the years,” she said. “Christmas decorations look very different in Scandinavia than in the U.S.”

At meal time, the holiday table at the Syrdahl home is spread with Norwegian and Finnish dishes: meatballs, tuttebear—a type of cranberry sauce—and traditional desserts such as Norwegian Krasekake or Crown Cake; Finnish Jouluriisipuuro or Christmas Rice Pudding.

“The tradition in Scandinavia is that you put an almond in the rice pudding and whoever gets it—and is single—will be the next person married.  When my mother wanted to hint that my sister should get married, she tied a string to the almond so she knew where it was when she dished it out for my sister!  We always laugh about that.”

View recipe: Finnish Rice Pudding


The maternal grandmother of Michele Lee Kozimor-King, associate professor of sociology, emigrated from Poland to the United States when she was a teenager, and the paternal side of Kozimor-King’s family is Polish, as well. So, for her, true to Polish ancestry, the emphasis on the winter holidays is more about Christmas Eve than Christmas Day.

“We have a traditional Polish Christmas Eve dinner called Wiligia when the first star appears in the Christmas Eve sky,” she said. Though her family follows the tradition of Wigilia—from the Latin term vigilare meaning “to await”—quite closely, they eat shrimp or scallops instead of fish, and there always is a side dish of pirogues.

But said Kozimor-King, “the recipe that screams Christmas to me is a Hungarian Cream Cheese Cookie that I have been making since my grandmother taught me at the age of 5.”

View recipe: Hungarian Cream Cheese Cookie


In Russia, the home country of Dmitriy Krichevskiy, assistant professor of economics, New Year’s Day is celebrated much the way Americans celebrate Christmas, he said. There is a feast and a tree, with presents under it, and a Russian version of Santa.

“Russian Santa is called Grandpa Frost, if translated literally; he is accompanied by a young and beautiful girl who is his niece,” Krichevskiy said. “Her name, if translated literally, would probably mean snow girl.” As the story goes, both Grampa Frost, or Ded Moroz, and the snow girl, also called Snegurochka, wear ropes around their waists. His is red; hers is blue.

Feasting is important to the Russian holiday and, said Krichevskiy, it is customary to have an elaborate menu with champagne and a Russian version of potato salad, which interestingly, goes by the French name, Olivier. Also, “There are a lot of pickled things like mushrooms, tomatoes, pickles, garlic and even pickled watermelon,” Krichevskiy said. Common to the Russian table, they all go well with vodka, he noted.

See recipes for Olivier and Shuba, below.

Recipes for the Campus Community

For ease of viewing, we nestled the recipes from the stories, above, here, at the end of the article. Click on the “+” to expand and the “-” to collapse. And enjoy! E-town NOW would love to hear if you tried one for these dishes.

Grammie’s Bake Corn

Grammies’ Baked Corn
1 box Jiffy corn bread mix
1 can creamed corn
1 can whole kernel corn (drained)
1 stick butter
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream

Melt the butter. Mix together the corn, corn bread mix and eggs in a large bowl. Add the butter and mix thoroughly. Fold in sour cream. Pour into greased 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until lightly golden brown.

Elegant Toffee

Elegant Toffee
1 cup whole almonds
1 cup sugar
2 sticks butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
12-ounce bag chocolate chips (Gibble noted that she uses the Hershey’s Special Dark Chips)

Line a cookie sheet with foil, and place the whole almonds on the foil in a 12-inch by 7-inch rectangle. Cook butter, sugar, salt and vanilla in a saucepan on high, stirring constantly for approximately 5 to 7 minutes. The mixture should begin to change color and is ready to pour over the almonds when it is the shade of the almonds. (Be patient, Gibble noted. Be sure to let it get dark enough.) Pour over the almonds and refrigerate until hard. Melt 6 oounces of the chocolate chips, and pour the chocolate over the toffee to coat the first side. Refrigerate until hard, and repeat on the other side. Break into pieces and serve. Store in plastic containers or baggies in the freezer until ready to serve because the chocolate tends to get soft if it sits out very long.


Bejgli (recipe for two rolls)

500 grams flour
250 grams butter
2 eggs
20 grams yeast
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 to 1-1/2 deciliters sour cream
Pinch of salt
1 egg, to brush on top of rolls

Walnut filling:
200 grams ground walnuts
200 grams powdered sugar
1/2 deciliter milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
50 grams raisins, soaked in rum

Heat the sugar and yeast in a small pot; add the sour cream. Mix the warm blend with the eggs, butter, flour and salt. Shape into a loaf; let it sit in the refrigerator overnight, wrapped in plastic wrap. The next day, separate it into two pieces, and roll each piece into a rectangle. Set aside.

Heat the milk; add sugar and all other filling ingredients. Cool, then spread the mixture over the rectangle of dough (leave a small margin, about 1 inch on each end).

Roll it up by the length. Place on a greased and floured sheet. Press the ends to wrap the rolls, and brush the remaining one egg yolk over the top. Let it sit for about a half hour in a warm place, then brush the one egg white on top. Let it sit for another half hour, then poke a few holes in the top with a toothpick, so the rolls don’t crack in the oven.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 to 40 minutes. Let it cool on the cookie sheet. Cut it into 1/2-inch wide slices.


1 cup butter, salted
4 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 cup nuts

Cream butter; add sugar, and beat. Add vanilla and flour. Mix well. Chop nuts, and add to the mixture. Roll the dough into walnut-sized balls. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 15 to 18 minutes at 350 degrees. (The bottoms of the cookies should be light brown, Nanna said). Let them cool slightly, but roll them in confectioner’s sugar while they are still warm. Let them cool on paper towels or a paper bag.


5 potatoes
3 carrots
4 eggs
1 pound boiled meat
1/2 pound green peas
2 to 3 dill pickles (you can use fresh cucumbers)
Salt, to taste
1/2 pound mayonnaise

Boil potatoes and carrots, keeping their skins. Cool and peel them. Boil eggs and boil the meat. Chop the potatoes, carrots, eggs, meat and dill pickles into 1/2-inch squares. Add the green peas and salt.

Stir in the mayonnaise and refrigerate.

Shuba — Beets and Herring Salad

Shuba — Beets and Herring Salad
Fillets of pickled herring in oil, finely chopped
3 large potatoes, boiled in the skin
4 large carrots, boiled in skins
3 large beets boiled in their skins
1 medium or large red or yellow onion, finely chopped
4 large hard-cooked eggs, finely chopped
1-1/2 cups mayonnaise
Black pepper
Parsley or dill for garnish (optional)

Boil the potatoes, beets and carrots in the same large saucepan until tender. The carrots will take about 15 to 20 minutes, the potatoes will take about 40 minutes, and the beets will take 1 hour or more. As they cook, remove the vegetables that become tender (but not mushy) and continue cooking the rest. Allow them to cool; peel them. Shred the carrots and beets, and finely chop the potatoes.
Place a ring mold or the ring from a springform pan on a serving platter. Place the entire portion of chopped potatoes on the bottom, patting into an even layer. Spread one-third of the mayonnaise on top to completely cover the potatoes. Place half of the beets, then half of the carrots and half of the onion, all of the herring, and one-third of the mayonnaise.

Then layer the remainder of the onion and carrots, all of the chopped eggs and black pepper, the rest of the mayo and the remainder of the beets and pack down. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours before serving.

Garnish with parsley or dill.

What holiday recipes traditions grace your table? Share below!

About the Author :

E.A. (Elizabeth) Harvey is the communications manager and news editor at Elizabethtown College. She has worked in the Office of Marketing and Communications since 2008, after more than two decades as a newspaper feature writer. She holds a bachelor's degree in corporate communication from Elizabethtown College.

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